In the last few years Speed Camera vans have become a familiar, if not entirely popular, sight on Irish roads.
Two years on from the full roll-out of the scheme the selection of camera locations is changing. Some zones will drop off the list and new ones will be added. There is clear logic behind the selection of the locations but still there are a lot of people who just aren’t convinced.
There are drivers out there who are certain that the whole thing is a racket designed to collect money. I doubt very much if anything that I say will change their minds but genuinely I do not believe that this is true because of the way the system operates.
It might have been true but the AA was deeply involved in arguments behind the scenes to make sure that it was done properly. We won those arguments (and to be fair we had the support of the Garda ), and the result is a system that has worked and is supported by a majority of Irish drivers.
The ones who wanted to get it wrong were the Department of Finance. Before the system was introduced they were firmly of the view that each individual camera had to raise enough money in fines to pay for itself.
This was fundamentally wrong and we resisted it fiercely. The job of a speed camera is to slow traffic down and thus prevent crashes. The better it does its job the fewer fines it will collect. But the payoff is huge.
Every time a camera fines a motorist it raises €80. Every time a fatal collision is prevented there is a calculated saving to the State of about €2.5 million. Even if you cared only about money it makes more sense to use them properly.
There were a number of core principles that we had to be reassured on before we were willing to support the cameras. These are:
Camera operators must not be incentivised to ‘catch’ motorists because that incentivises them to do the wrong thing. This was agreed. The system is operated by a company called ‘GoSafe’ and they are paid by the hour to be there watching. They are not paid any sort of commission.
The contract currently requires them to carry out almost 7,500 monitoring hours per month. They are paid the exact same amount of money whether they catch ten thousand motorists or none at all.
The locations where cameras operate must be published for all to see. Again, this was agreed. The locations are published on the Garda website and many other locations, including on the AA RoutePlanner.
The camera locations must be selected on the basis of where crashes are happening and not on any other criteria. Again this was agreed.
The updating of the locations that is currently under way was always part of the plan. The black spots are selected on the basis of collision data over the last five years. Each location is a road where a disproportionate number of speed related collisions has occurred.
In time those locations will be updated every year as the rolling data-set is updated. The Garda will never be free to select locations on a whim or in response to which local councillor shouts at them the loudest. Again this is really important.
We may still haggle with them from time to time on how the data is interpreted but at least we are discussing data, not opinion.
We know from our own research among AA Members that the issue is divisive. When we surveyed people’s views on the subject in June of 2011, 8 out of 10 supported cameras but just over a quarter distrusted the authorities and felt that they were being used too much as a revenue raising tool. 6 per cent were absolutely cynical and didn’t believe a word. Fair enough.
‘Trust but verify’ was a cold-war phrase used by Ronald Reagan that applies here. The AA believes that we have a well-designed system but one that needs constant watching. The Garda and the State have to continue to demonstrate good faith if they want to continue to enjoy the support of Irish drivers.